Marketing the Mommy Makeover

By Christine Cupaiuolo — October 4, 2007

Marketing is truly an amazing thing.

Only in recent years have mothers been made to feel ashamed if they don’t have stick-thin figures with buoyant breasts within weeks of giving birth. And now there’s a whole industry working off that new guilt, targeting women with a smorgasbord of surgery options packaged as the quick-and-easy path to the perfect body.

Plastic surgeons have figured out a new way to sell a full-body tune-up: Start by calling it the “Mommy Makeover.” Offer a trifecta of procedures — breast lift (maybe implants to go along it), tummy tuck and liposuction — with a price tag starting around $10,000. Cue terms like “positive self image” and “embrace the feeling of being a woman.”

That’s what the website of Dr. David A. Stoker does. And Stoker leaves no question about his opinion of women’s postpregnancy bodies: “The severe physical trauma of pregnancy, childbirth and breast-feeding can have profound negative effects that cause women to lose their hourglass figures,” Stoker tells the New York Times.

“Twenty years ago, a woman did not think she could do something about it and she covered up with discreet clothing,” he adds. “But now women don’t have to go on feeling self-conscious or resentful about their appearance.”

Of course what this really amounts to is a thinly-veiled critique of women’s bodies that don’t fit a very particular ideal. NYT writer Natasha Singer does a good job of contextualizing this critique, starting with some OBOS history:

In 1970, “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the seminal guide to women’s health, described the cosmetic changes that can happen during and after pregnancy simply as phenomena. But now narrowing beauty norms are recasting the transformations of motherhood as stigma.

These unforgiving standards are the offspring of pop culture and technology, a union that treats biological changes as if they were as optional as hair color. Gossip magazines excoriate celebrity moms who don’t immediately lose their “baby weight.” Even Cookie, a luxury parenting magazine, recently ran an article that described postpregnancy breasts as “the ultimate indignity” and promoted implant surgery; a photo of droopy water-filled balloons accompanied the article.

Many women struggle with the impact of aging and pregnancy on their bodies. But the marketing of the “mommy makeover” seeks to pathologize the postpartum body, characterizing pregnancy and childbirth as maladies with disfiguring aftereffects that can be repaired with the help of scalpels and cannulae.

“The message is that, after having children, women’s bodies change for the worse,” said Diana Zuckerman, the president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, a nonprofit group in Washington. If marketing could turn the postpregnancy body “into a socially unacceptable thing, think of how big your audience would be and how many surgeries you could sell them,” she said.

Or as Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, tells the Times, “Some women go back to a pretty flat stomach and some don’t, some go back to their pre-baby weight and some don’t. The question is, does that need to be treated with a surgical makeover?”

The story concludes with what I thought was a great quote:

On the blog StrollerDerby, Karen Murphy, a mother of four, lambasted mommy surgery.

“Those badges of motherhood have turned into badges of shame and, if you’re the one caught without a tummy tuck, then you won’t get invited to the party,” she wrote. “It peeves me no end that something as drastic as surgery, as this blatant nonacceptance of one’s own body in whatever shape it happens to be in, has become so pervasive.”

Read Murphy’s full blog post, though, and you’ll see her feelings toward the surgery are a little more complicated. While her ambivalence and frustration is totally understandable, I think the Times, by not quoting Murphy more fully, over-simplifies the point.

A side note: The caption accompanying the photo at the top of the story says Sharlotte Birkland “had postpregnancy surgery in March.” Yet according to the story, she’s 39 and has a 20-year-old son. Wouldn’t her case be, well, just plastic surgery?

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, notes the Times, “reported a rise in cosmetic surgery among women of child-bearing age (not all of whom are necessarily mothers). Last year, doctors nationwide performed more than 325,000 ‘mommy makeover procedures’ on women ages 20 to 39, up 11 percent from 2005, the group said.”

So it seems a little tricky to break out how many “mommy makeovers” are being done vs. how many women in the “mommy demographic” are now opting for multiple procedures.

Plus: The Times, in a separate short piece, looks at vaginal rejuvenation surgeries, such as labioplasty and vaginoplasty, which were recently criticized by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for providing no benefits and leading to complications such as infection, scarring and pain during sex.

“These procedures are not medically indicated, and the safety and effectiveness of these procedures have not been documented,” ACOG said in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

One response to “Marketing the Mommy Makeover”

  1. Judy,

    Thank you for being the voice of reason in the article in the NY Times, “Is the Mom Job Really Necessary” — we are sure you said tons more great stuff and we note that they put the voices of reason at the end of the article, but hey, that’s balanced reporting! Maybe the next step is to combine a c-section with plastic surgery (a two for one deal). 🙂

    Thanks for all the good work you do!

    From all of us at NAPW.

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